By Jonathan Edwards
Hungry Ghosts #2 showcases just how strange it is that this book is both a horror anthology as well as a four-issue limited series. The framing narrative is all but abandoned save for briefly showing the teller at the beginning of each story. It makes you wonder why Bourdain and Rose spent so much of the first issue establishing such specific circumstances. As for the two stories we get this time around, they’re an overall stronger pair. However, taken individually, neither is especially good and, despite its flaws, “The Pirates” from the last issue remains the single best story this book has offered so far.
We start with “Salty Horse” which also happens to be the better of this issue’s two stories. An unnamed Spanish lord has taken to consuming the flesh of horses. Factors like age, gender, and purpose (e.g., racing horse, breeding horse, etc.) don’t seem to matter as long as the meat is from a horse. This goes on and on until his personal stable is all but empty save for a lone, old warhorse. Of course, the Lord wastes no time sending it to the slaughterhouse, kitchen, and then his table, where he greedily devours it. And, while I won’t elaborate on exactly how “Salty Horse” ends, I will say that the gist of it is painfully obvious from the get-go. All of the Lord’s gluttony and self-indulgence leads straight to karmic retribution. Or, put another way, he gets his just deserts (note: the book didn’t make that terrible joke, but it should have). As such, it’s not particularly surprising nor interesting when it happens. In fact, it ends up being pretty forced when the in-universe explanation comes out of nowhere with no established internal logic to back it up.
As for the second story, “The Heads,” it’s not very good and not scary in the least. It follows an apprentice chef who, after his master dies, is left without a teacher or a job. Initially unable to find any new work, the apprentice eventually meets a chef willing to take him in. And, after bringing the apprentice to the restaurant he owns, the chef explains how his endless hospitality is all in the service of atoning for serving a customer fatal black-market cheese (no, seriously) years prior. Although, that turns out to be little more than a cover story, as, by night, the chef and his employees drop their bodies and become flying head monsters that eat human flesh. But, as luck would have it, the apprentice quickly discovers that fact, overhears their plans to eat him, and actually remembers them from a story his grandmother told him when he was young. What’s more, he also remembers that they die if they stay disembodied for too long. So, he disposes of the chef’s body (and, for some reason, none of the employees’) by throwing it out a window. But, the story doesn’t end there; that’s only the midpoint. From which, the second half goes off on a bizarre, unsatisfying tangent and culminates in a weaksauce ending that somehow manages to feel disconnected from the setup despite actually being foreshadowed in the first half.
For the art, Leonardo Manco and Mateus Santolouco take over for “Salty Horse” and “The Heads” respectively, and they both do quite well. Unfortunately, even Santolouco’s best efforts don’t help make “The Heads” a good story. Conversely, “Salty Horse” only becomes any sort of interesting to read thanks to Manco’s increasingly grotesque depictions of the Lord and his gluttony.
Hungry Ghosts #2 fails to improve on the previous issue in any way. The framing narrative’s aforementioned neglect makes it feel like Bourdain and Rose only included it because they thought they couldn’t get away with a horror anthology without it. The stories aren’t getting any better nor progressively scarier, as they’re supposed to when playing Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai. And, while the art has never been bad, it’s also never been impactful enough to warrant reading for the imagery alone. But, these are all just symptoms of the book’s real problem: it doesn’t try to reach for the full potential of its premise, and it doesn’t want to. If it did, we’d get at least double the page length and three or four (if not more) stories per issue. And, they would all have a lot more to them. But, who knows. Perhaps Bourdain and Rose will at least start to write more economically with each of the twenty-some page issues of this book’s second half.
Hungry Ghosts #2
Dark Horse Comics